Supreme Court on Monday nullified the election of Mr Emeka Ihedioha of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as governor of Imo State.
The apex court declared Mr Hope Uzodinma of All Progressive Congress (APC) as winner of the March 9 governorship election in the state.
In the unanimous judgement of the seven-member panel, read by Mrs Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, the apex court agreed that results in 388 polling units were unlawfully excluded during the collation of the final governorship election result in Imo State.
Kekere-Ekun said with the results from the 388 polling units added, Uzodinma polled a majority of lawful votes and ought to have been declared winner of the election by independent national electoral commission, INEC.
Consequently, she voided and set aside the declaration of lhedioha as the winner of the 2019 governorship election.
The court ordered that the certificate of return wrongly or unlawfully issued to lhedioha be immediately withdrawn by INEC and a fresh one be issued to Uzodinma as the elected governor.
“Vote due to the appellant Uzodinma and APC from 388 Polling Units were wrongly excluded from scores ascribed to the appellant (to them).
“It is thereby ordered that the appellant votes from 388 Polling Units unlawfully excluded from the appellant vote declared shall be added and that the first respondent, Ihedioha, was not duly elected by a majority of lawful votes cast at the said election.”
“His return as the elected governor of Imo State is hereby declared null and void and accordingly set aside.
“It is hereby declared that the first appellant (Uzodinma) holds the majority of lawful votes cast at the governorship election held in Imo State on March 9, 2019.”
The judge said Uzodinma had satisfied the mandatory constitutional requirement.
“It is hereby declared that first appellant, Uzodinma is the winner of the governorship of Imo State held on March 9, 2019.
“The certificate issued to the first defendant (Ihedioha) is hereby withdrawn.
“It is hereby ordered that the certificate of return shall be issued to the first appellant, Uzodinma, forthwith and he should be sworn in as the governor of Imo State,” she ruled.
Lower court’s earlier decision
The Court of Appeal on November 19 had affirmed the victory of Ihedioha as the governor of Imo State.
A five-member panel of the court led by Oyebisi Omoleye delivered the judgement following the appeals filed by Action Alliance, All Progressive Grand Alliance and the All Progressives Congress challenging the election of the governor.
The appellants had argued that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutionally required one-quarter of the votes cast in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, as provided under Section 179 of the Constitution.
The appellants, therefore, asked the court to set aside the decision of the election petition tribunal and declare them the winner of the election or in the alternative order a rerun.
The Three Appeals
The three appeals filed against the judgment of the Imo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, which upheld the election of Ihedioha, include that of the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) and its candidate, Mr Ifeanyi Ararume; Action Alliance (AA) and its candidate, Mr Uche Nwosu and that of APC and its candidate, Uzodinma.
The different appellants asked the Court of Appeal to void the election of Ihedioha on grounds that he did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with Section 179 of the Constitution.
In their various submissions by their counsel, they asked the court to set aside the decision of the tribunal and declare them winner of the March 9 governorship election or in the alternative order INEC to conduct a fresh election into the office of Governor of Imo State.
The three-member panel of the tribunal had in a unanimous decision delivered on September 21 held that Ihedioha was lawfully declared the winner of the governorship election by INEC.
The panel led by Mr Malami Dongondaji had in the judgment dismissed Ararume, Nwosu and Uzodinma’s petitions for lacking in merit on the grounds that they failed to prove the allegations made in their petitions.
Apart from claims that Ihedioha did not obtain the constitutional one-quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the 27 local government areas of the state, in line with the provisions of the law, the petitioners had also alleged substantial non-compliance with the Electoral Act and Guidelines, including other irregularities.
But the tribunal in its judgement held that the case of the petitioners was unmeritorious because they failed to call relevant witnesses and that evidence of witnesses called were based on hearsay.
The tribunal, in addition, rejected documents tendered by the petitioners in support of their claims on the grounds that those who led evidence in the documents were not the makers of the documents.
In his appeal, Ararume urged the appellate court to upturn the decision of the tribunal on the grounds that the lower court erred in law when it arrived at the decision that his case and that of his party lacked merit and accordingly dismissed it.
The appeal which was predicated on 22 grounds was argued by his lead lawyer, Awal Kalu, while that of Nwosu and AA, was argued by Niyi Akintola. That of Uzodinma and APC was argued by Damian Dodo.
They all urged the panel to allow the appeal and grant all the relief sought by the appellants.
However, lead counsel to Ihedioha and PDP, Onyechi Ikpeazu and Kaham Ejelam respectively, urged the court to dismiss the appeals for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
In a U-turn on Tuesday, Nwosu withdrew his appeal, through his lawyer, Solomon Umoh.
He withdrew the appeal based on a December 20 Supreme Court ruling that Nwosu was not a validly nominated candidate for the election.
The respondents in the matter, including Ihedioha and PDP, did not object to the application of Nwosu to withdraw his appeal before the apex court.
Consequently, the court dismissed Nwosu’s appeal.